A Couple of Things I Have Learned This Year

I started this blog to voice some of the ideas I implement to get my classes motivated.  Some have worked really well, others have hit a few stumbling blocks but will be reworked and retried next year.

1. Coloured Paper

This worked beautifully with all of the classes I tried it with.  In short, the idea was – maths is easier if presented on coloured paper.  It doesn’t matter what colour, just not white.  I say it worked beautifully, that is until it stopped working so well!  In fairness, what I should say is it works really well until it’s not novel anymore.  So, towards the end of term, k would throw in a couple of ‘coloured paper’ lessons to get the kids back on track and that seemed to re-engage them.

2. Encouraging Competition

My tutor group started an in class competition to get a given number of conduct points by the end of term.  They worked out that if they each got one point per day then 450 points would be a doddle in the last 5 school weeks.  And it should have been.  What I didn’t count on was that people get tired towards the end of term and continually recording conduct points begins to drop down the priority list.  So while my kids knew they had been given the points, nothing was showing up on the system.  Therefore, they stopped trying.  To revamp this idea, I am going to produce a month by month bar graph of their points this year and we will see if they can beat their totals each month next year. I’m sure there will be no shortage of volunteers to colour in the bars as they get the points.  We a also having a Tutor MVP board each week.  I think that should encourage those who consistently get the points to realise that I do notice how they are getting on.

Hopefully, new inspiration will hit early in the new school year and I will add more musings.

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Make it a competition!

So, my latest idea in the quest to engage students and get them to participate in their own education is something that I am trialing with my tutor group.  I have a group of 18 year 7’s who are generally lovely, but like all children, can be a bit lacklustre when it comes to putting in any more than the minimum amount of effort.

Like most, if not all schools, we have a behaviour policy with reward and consequence pathways.  The majority of my group finish each week with a positive number of points (after the negatives are subtracted from the positives), but there are a couple of exceptions. I have spoken to the individuals who are not always making the right choices when it comes to classroom behaviour, but it is not having quite the effect I  would like.

So I have proposed a small competition.  It began today, with 26 more school days in the year.  The challenge is to accumulate 450 overall points as a class by the end of the school year.  This was initially met with some gasps of disbelief, but when I explained that it was less than one point each per day, they are on board.  I hope that they will all make an effort, as there is no chance that a couple of individuals can do this alone.

My hope is that some peer pressure might ‘encourage’ all students to try a little bit harder and also to support those students who find some lessons harder to stay on task in.  If I can encourage my year 7’s to engage with their learning a bit more now, maybe they will continue to engage in years 8, 9, 10 and 11.

Will it work?  Watch this space.

Rewarding Engagement

For some time I have had a “Reward Box” in my classroom.   I tell my classes that they can earn something from the box if they put in a good amount of effort during the lesson.  The box is stocked with cheap and cheerful items from well know high street shops that are famous for selling items for £1 – you know the ones I mean – and other similar shops that have items for pennies rather than pounds.  I have always found that almost all students want something from the box and most are prepared to work for it.

Recently, this idea was picked up by my head teacher and rolled out across the school.  The kids really bought into it and commented on how it was great that they could now earn ‘stuff’ in every classroom.  And all seemed well with the world.  As long as I kept the boxes stocked up with pens, pencils, sticky notes, iPad stylus pens, funky rubbers and other such random stationery, the kids would engage with their lessons more.

That was the theory anyway.  For the first few weeks, it seemed to be working, but slowly I started to notice that, not only were some teachers no longer buying into the idea and giving the rewards out when the kids were working well, but my own classes seemed less willing to work as hard for me as they could get something for less effort in another class.

I still believe in this strategy as a way to engage less than enthusiastic students, but I think it will only continue to work under certain circumstances.  Everyone needs to give rewards consistently for the same level of effort or the system simply stops working.  I know that if this was on offer when I was at school and I could get the same thing for less effort somewhere else, I would not have had any reason to try in a lesson where I didn’t feel confident.  I think a relaunch may be necessary to get the kids back on track for the last few weeks of the year.

Why does coloured paper make everything easier?

I have been conducting a bit of an experiment with one of my classes over the past few weeks.  To give a bit of background information, this is a very small year 10 class who firmly believe that maths is too hard.  I have been teaching this class for about a year now and have slowly been gaining their ‘trust’.  They know that I won’t ask them to do anything I don’t think they can do, but they still regularly say it’s all too hard.

So, I started to think about how I could get them to try new things.  I began to put all work onto coloured paper – a variety of different colours, but stayed away from RAG as I didn’t want them predicting the difficulty of the questions by the colour they were printed on.  And guess what?  It seems that maths is easier when presented on coloured paper!

A class that ‘couldn’t do’ maths have been doing all sorts of more complex work recently.  I know that I need to ‘ween’ them off the colours but at the moment it seems that there is nothing that they won’t have a go at!  That is a good result as far as I am concerned.

Getting them to believe

I have taught a lot of different students over a lot of years and I am good at my job.  But I can not do anything with students if the are not prepared to get involved.  One of the reasons, I believe, that some students fail to engage in lessons, is simply that they don’t believe that they can do it!  Whatever “it” happens to be.

I started to think earlier in the year (when I changed classrooms) how I could improve this self belief.  One of the things I found, when specifically looking, was that some very weak students will not engage because they are afraid to get things wrong and it is better (in their mind) to disengage from the lesson than to try and fail.  This, almost, conscious refusal to try was something that I thought I could get through with the right resources.  So, after some thought and a bit of research, I discovered whiteboard topped tables.  I then found that one of the other departments had some that they did not want – so a swap was arranged.

I did not know whether my plan would work or not, but I set out my class with pencil cases of whiteboard pen on every table and told the students they could write on the tables.  The first week was not much fun for me.  I saw many penises on many tables as well as many other non mathematical symbols, but I hoped this was just teething problems due to the novelty value.  Sure enough, after a week or two, all I could see was calculations and working out on the tables.

This was great to see with my top sets, but the best thing was that my weakest students were also beginning to engage.  It seemed that, if they could simply erase any mistakes, so nobody knew they had happened, they were much happier to try.  It wasn’t long before my bottom set year 10 students were tacking some quite tricky Pythagoras problems that they wouldn’t have gone near if the only option was to write in books.

I am still very clear with my students that I want to see all working out in books, but am happy for they to test drive their ideas first – and its working!

 

How do we Engage Students?

When I took on the role of Lead Practitioner in a new Maths department, one of my roles was to improve engagement.  How do I do this?  I began to have a think about which lessons my students really engaged with and which ones were trickier to keep them on task.  I found, unsurprisingly, that the more hands on the lesson, the more my students got on-board.  However, not all lessons can be fully active and I do have a few who don’t like this way of learning.  So I have decided to start blogging about the variety of ways I try in my classroom to engage students.  Although I don’t expect to find the magic pill, I hope to find a few strategies that work most of the time.  Please feel free to comment on my posts with your own feelings and ideas.